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Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News (Hardcover)

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(With a ragged boy’s newsy tonality from atop a tarnished crate) Step right up! Step right up! Behold the critically curious, the dynamically didactic, the enormously eruptive, Bunk! Written by the gentleman-whimsy-poet-extraordinaire, Kevin Young, this polemic uncovers one of the truest, oldest, and grossest of American traditions: “the spectacle as speculation.” Whether it be for cold hard cash, superior cultural positioning, hierarchical racial switcheroos, or just because the huckster became bored and needed a new game to play with the masses, Bunk examines how and why American hoaxes are often overtly exposed only to then become subtly forgotten—outrage followed by amnesia. It is within this historical underappreciation that Young makes his mark. For as soon as we realize that a hoax is “a trick disguised as a wish,” the question becomes, but whose wish? Answer: ours.

— From Bennet's picks


Longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction

"There Kevin Young goes again, giving us books we greatly need, cleverly disguised as books we merely want. Unexpectedly essential."--Marlon James

Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue's gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers--from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. Trump. Bunk traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What Is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.

Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of "truthiness" where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.

About the Author

Kevin Young is the author of a previous book of nonfiction, The Grey Album, and eleven books of poetry, including Blue Laws, which was long-listed for the National Book Award. He is the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9781555977917
ISBN-10: 155597791X
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication Date: November 14th, 2017
Pages: 480
Language: English